Hooray For Being Serious
Review By: Gringo

All right, so now you know how to be funny.

But as we all know too well, life ain't a jolly bucket of giggles. Life's full of tension, seriousness, drama and all those irritating things that reduce the fun quota of my life. However, these same things are used to great effect in today's genre: Drama. Oh yes, it's time to tell you which drama genre movies I like...and of course, which ones I hate.

Let's start with Forrest Gump, a film that won more Oscars than it deserved.

According to the film sleeve, 'Tom Hanks IS Forrest Gump'. Yes, but it fails to mention that Forrest Gump is dripping in sentimentality, or the fact it tries to play on the audience's emotions too many times and without any subtlety. Tom Hanks may BE Forrest Gump, but Tom Hanks is also embarrasing to watch: his mock Alabama accent and dumbfounded expression played as a constant monotone for the entire over-long duration of the movie. This is how to over-do a drama.

The movie was adapted from Winston Groom's novel (called Forrest Gump, moron). And it has to be said, the novel was far more ironic, knowing and less schmaltzy than the turgid chow Hanks, Zemeckis and co. churned out. There's just too many 'heartwarming' moments when Forrest meets someone or does something that is a major part of American history. By the way, I have a heart...just not when it's deliberately attacked by something like this movie.

But enough of that dip into sweetness and light. Moving on... and despite some elements of action (most involving Joe Pesci shooting somebody in the face) Goodfellas is essentially a drama. A drama about Henry Hill's guilt-free descent into the smart-suited, strong-swearing, oh-so-violent world of crime. It's a story that spans from 1950 to the early 1990's, and is every bit a perfect drama. Filled with sadness, rare moments of happiness and some brutally real confrontations, this is an A+ of a story. And it doesn't try and tug at your heart strings.

There are plenty of conflicts here, plenty of scenes of tension and surprise. For instance, the culmination of the heist that sees so many of a once-unbreakable gang end up in dumpster trucks, frozen to death in meat lorries, and other unpleasant ways of doing away with people.

In Jimmy Conway, Robert De Niro creates someone who seems to help everyone whilst always looking after himself. Ray Liotta as Henry Hill brings a great range of emotions: drug-riddled paranoia, cocky confidence at a newfound gangster lifestyle, even desperation as he finally turns to the Witness Protection Program. Filled with a supporting cast that ooze quality not saccharine, Martin Scorcese directs one of the best movies of his career. The quality of Goodfellas is why so many pale imitations of it exist.

This next movie reminds me why I wish pain upon Kevin Costner. Probably the beginning of his ride into disappearing up his own backside, Field Of Dreams brings us full-circle to dramas that are offensively drawn out and over-done. Too many times Costner's character stares out to the empty cornfield. Too many times is his battle to follow his dream played out. Too many times (1) have I watched this.

If rules of movie-making were followed by the book, then someone forgot to tell Costner this is drama. The only piece of dramatic tension is Costner vs. the neighbourhood as he tries to convince them of his quest. The yearning to play with his baseball heroes ain't drama. It becomes whiny and a poor excuse for charging towards bankruptcy like Costner's character chooses to.

This movie falls into the trap of trying too hard to get our emotions. Dipped in sentimentality, Costner's character seems to scream at the audience for them to love him and his wacky idea. Sure, let this hick farmer build his baseball field, but is anyone to believe that hundreds of people - for no reason whatsoever - turn up to share the dream, unnanounced? You'd have to get publicity, television spots, commercials...but then again, perhaps I just have no heart. Feh.

James Earl Jones is cruelly placed in this film, as is Ray Liotta - who had been on such good form as Henry Hill in the oh-so-infintely-better Goodfellas. An abuse of actors - except Kevin Costner, who deserves it - is never a good thing. Field Of Dreams is guilty of such an act. If you don't believe me, then how come Kevin Costner didn't make a decent film - Thirteen Day - for another ten years?. Ray Liotta has seemingly vanished. As for James Earl Jones, he's stuck saying "THIS is CNN" over and over and over and over again. The things a below-par drama can do!

To relieve the headache of the last film, I'll end with a good one. Watergate is a topic that's been used in cinema too many times. However, All The President's Men was one of the first to use it, so all is forgiven. The story revolves around Woodward and Bernstein, the two reporters who uncovered the whole story thanks to their contact - Deep Throat. Linda Lovelace also enjoyed a certain amount of it in her porn film Deep Throat. I don't think the informer in this movie has any connection to that porn movie. Erm. Anyway, this is why being serious is sometimes a great thing. There's few jokes and even less bang-bang-car-chase action in this film - and that's a good thing.

A large part of it involves confrontations, question-asking, dead ends and the like. If you think that's dull, then you're probably right. However, the skillful way it's handled in this film makes you think that Bernstein and Woodward must have gone without any sleep from the minute they found their first lead. Tension, drama and all the other serious-movie templates are used, and all to consistently great effect. Watch Field Of Dreams, then watch this. You'll soon be able to tell the difference, and I'm not just talking about the lack of Kevin Costner (although that's always a good thing). All The President's Men has a decent script, actors correctly cast and first-rate direction. Field Of Dreams, quite simply, has none of the above.

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